This has been the hardest thing for me to write—ever. No, no. Not because grief consumed me and I couldn’t bring myself to think about it. Oh, sure. I’ve grieved. I still grieve. But the obstacles in the path of my thought process haven’t been emotional. Really.
My problem with writing about my Daddy? I just couldn’t think what to say. That’s all. In the big scheme of things, he was just….Daddy. My Daddy. Just because he was the leading man at the house I grew up in wouldn’t really make him a figure of interest to anybody who didn’t know him.
We buried my father on February 2, 2009. When the lid to the casket closed, a panic swooped over me. I would never, ever see him again this side of Heaven. Never. And with the closing of that lid, everything I could have, would have, should have asked him about himself was sealed forever. No more chances to “get to know him better.” I had my chance and all I could do was hope I had learned enough.
I grew up in an era when so many dads were—well—just dads. They married our mothers which made them husbands and then they became fathers. Simple. Having kids was just part of being married for so many men in this era. Part of the job—just went with the territory. Well, that’s how it seemed to me. So, to me as a kid growing up, he was just plain ol’ Daddy. Nothing special. Just a guy doing his job.
Oh, sure. There were the other fathers, the exceptions. And sometimes, as a little girl, I seethed with jealousy toward my friends whose fathers were the exceptions. The dads who called their daughters “Princess”. I honestly convinced myself that my dad would have been a better dad if he would have only called me “Princess.” But my father, plain ol’ Daddy, didn’t anoint me with that coveted name. Oh, well, I survived the beastly abuse of not being the little princess of my daddy’s eye. I somehow managed to shoot to adulthood as a fully functional, well adjusted woman in spite of this atrocity.
The beauty of it all? I learned he couldn’t have been a better father. Even considering the fact that he never had a pet name for me, that he didn’t take me fishing, that he didn’t play games with me—he still couldn’t have been a better father.
He supported his family on $2.15 an hour with his Post Office job (before it was union and before it was called Postal Union) and pushed a broom at a junior high school (in the days before they were called ‘middle school’) after work to make extra money.
Times were hard, money was short. Suppers consisted often of pinto beans and cornbread or, on Sundays we ate scrambled eggs (never knew the Sunday egg connection—have made a mental note to find out from my mother). But we ate. We didn’t want. We were happy. We were a family and our house was a warm sanctuary.
I thought I knew my daddy as well as I needed to. He wasn’t my best friend. He was my father. The man who raised me. In the world I lived in (this is the world before time-outs replaced spankings), your daddy was just your daddy, and that was all he was supposed to be. What more did you need to know?
Well, I had a startling revelation that he might be a little more than that when I got married. The morning I was scheduled to leave my girlhood home to move to Alabama as a married woman, I got up early to say ‘good-bye’ to my daddy before he left for work. He hugged me so tight that I couldn’t break his hold. When he finally let go, he’d been crying. Tears were in his eyes. How dare he? This man who was supposed to be as indifferent as I was? Crying? Yes.
From then on I realized he was more than just my father, but was a man with feelings and a personality I hadn’t gotten to know. He was a man who had a whole life before I came along, a man I never knew.
Thank God for revealing this to me while he was still alive. For letting me learn about my father—the man who served his country in World War II in the Eleventh Airborne and earned a Purple Heart. The man who did double duty and served in the Navy on The U.S.S. Wasp. The man who sort of looked like a combination of William Holden and Paul Newman when he was young. The good looking man who married my mother and conceived me and my siblings.
The man who, as it turns out, actually had a fascinating life, but who to me was still just Daddy.